Friday, February 27, 2009

Sri Lanka Leopard

The Sri Lanka leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), colloquially known as Kotiya, is a subspecies of leopard native to Sri Lanka. However, "kotiyā" is now the colloquial Sinhala name for the tiger and "diviyā" is used for the leopard.

A recent study has shown that Yala National Park has one of the highest recorded densities of leopards in the world, although this animal is still considered to be endangered. The Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka is also known as a good place to watch leopards. Leopards tend to be more readily observed in parts of Sri Lanka than in other countries where they share their habitat with more dominant competitors, such as lions or tigers.


The Sri Lanka leopard is one of the ten known subspecies of leopard. Its coat is tawny or rusty yellow, stamped with dark spots and rosettes. Its known as probably the largest of all subspecies of leopards. Seven females that were weighed averaged 29 kg; males averaged 56 kg, with the largest being 77 kg.

Range and habitat

Range of the leopard in Sri Lanka

This leopard is found only in Sri Lanka, and is the country's top predator. Little has been known about it in the past, but ongoing studies (The Leopard Project, run by The Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust, [1]) indicate that they are still distributed throughout the island both inside and outside of protected areas. The leopard has been observed in a variety of habitats including dry evergreen monsoon forest, arid scrub jungle, low and upper montane (highland) forest, rainforest, and wet zone intermediate forests.


Like most cats, the Sri Lanka leopard is pragmatic in its choice of diet which can include small mammals, birds, reptiles as well as larger animals. Axis or spotted deer make up the majority of its diet in the dry zone. The animal also preys on sambar, barking deer, wild boar and monkeys. The cat has been known to tackle almost fully grown buffalos.

The leopard hunts like other leopards, silently stalking its prey until it is within striking distance where it unleashes a burst of speed to quickly pursue and pounce on its victim. The prey is usually dispatched with a single bite to the throat.


Sri Lanka Leopard

A recent study in Yala National Park (The Leopard Project) indicates that Sri Lankan leopards are not any more social, nor less nocturnal, than other populations. They are solitary hunters, with the exception of females with young. Both sexes live in overlapping territories with the ranges of males overlapping the smaller ranges of several females, as well as overlapping the ranges of neighbouring males.

The breeding season is throughout the year with a non-significant peak in the dry season. A litter usually consists of 2 cubs. Unlike some other leopards, Sri Lanka leopards appear to rarely cache kills in trees. This is consistent with other populations where the leopard is the apex predator as there is no requirement for them to store their prey in places which are inaccessible to other predators.


Sri Lanka Leopard in wild

The survival of the Sri Lanka leopard has been threatened due to poaching, habitat loss, and persecution. Despite these threats, the animal is highly adaptable and is able to live in close proximity to human settlements. Years of civil unrest in Sri Lanka have hampered conservation efforts, especially in the Wilpattu national park and eastern regions contested by government forces and the LTTE.


Further research into the Sri Lanka leopard is needed for any conservation measure to be effective. The Leopard Project under the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) is working closely with the government of Sri Lanka to ensure this occurs. The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society will also undetake some studies. The WWCT are currently engaged in the central hills region where fragmentation of the leopard's habitat is rapidly occurring.


In late 80s and early 90s, the word 'kotiya' was being frequently incorrectly translated into English as "tiger" in Sri Lankan media due to incorrect information that was received from the then head of the Wildlife Department in Sri Lanka. He had allegedly said.[citation needed] that "there are no kotiyas (tigers) in Sri Lanka but diviyās", misinterpreting Panthera pardus kotiya as "diviyā" (Sinhala term used for small wild cats). Although it is correct that there are there are no tigers in Sri Lanka, the formal Sinhala word for tiger is "viyagraya" and not "kotiyā". Panthera pardus kotiya (Sri Lanka leopard) is the kotiyā proper, and there is no such creature as Panthera pardus diviya. Unfortunately Sri Lankans started to use "kotiyā" to mean "tiger", so "diviyā" was chosen for "leopard".

The term "diviyā" has been used for centuries in Sri Lanka to refer to smaller wild species of the cat family such as "Handun Diviyā" or "Kola Diviyā" (both names are used interchangbly for the Fishing Cat and the Rusty-spotted cat).

A further complicating factor is that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) are colloquially known to the Sinhala-speaking community as 'Koti', the plural form of 'Kotiyā'.

Sinharaja Forest

Sinharaja Forest
Singharaja Forest Reserve is the most famous rainforest of the country. This tropical rain forest is a living heritage. Bio diversity of the forest is very high and a large proportion of the flora in this forest is endemic to the country and some endemic to the Singharaja Forest itself. This is a very good place to see many endemic birds such as Ceylon Lorikeet, Layard's parakeet, Jungle and Spur Fowl, Ceylon Wood Pigeon, Grey Hombill, Spotted wing Thrush, Rufous and Brown- capped Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White Headed Starling, Ceylon Hill Mynha, Legge's Flowerpecker. The clear cut roads in to the jungle provide easy access to the forest. This important forest is a Man and Biosphere Forest reserve and it is considered as a World Heritage Site.

  1. IUCN Management Category II (National Park), Biosphere Reserve, Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iv
  2. Geographical Location Situated in the south-west lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka, within Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces. It is bounded on the north by the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga, on the south and south-west by the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga, on the west by the Kalukandawa Ela and Kudawa Ganga and on the east by an ancient footpath near Beverley Tea Estate and by the Denuwa Kanda. 6°21'-6°26'N, 80°21'-80°34'E
  3. Date and History of establishment Notified a national heritage wilderness area on 21 October 1988 (Gazette No. 528/14). Most of the area was originally declared a forest reserve on 3 May 1875 under the Waste Lands Ordinance and notified in the Ceylon Government Gazette No. 4046, dated 8 May 1875, while the rest was notified a proposed forest reserve in the early 20th century. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, comprising the existing and proposed forest reserves, was declared a biosphere reserve in April 1978, and inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.
  4. Area According to Gazette No. 528/14, the total area of the national heritage wilderness area is 18,899 acres and 12 perches (7,648.2ha). The area of the biosphere reserve and World Heritage site as cited in the respective nominations is 8,864ha, of which 6,092ha is forest reserve and 2,772ha is a proposed forest reserve.
  5. Land tenure State
  6. Altitude Ranges from 300m to 1,170m (Hinipitigala Peak).
  7. Physical features This narrow strip of undulating terrain consists of a series of ridges and valleys. It is drained by an intricate network of streams, which flow into the Gin Ganga on the southern boundary and Kalu Ganga, via the Napola Dola, Koskulana Ganga and Kudawa Ganga, on the northern boundary. The reserve lies within the transition zone of two important rock types characteristic of Sri Lanka. The south-western group consists of metasediments, charnokites and scapolite-bearing calc-granulites, while the highland group comprises khondalites of metamorphosed sediments and charnokites (Cooray, 1978). Mostsignificant is the presence of the Sinharaja Basic Zone, consisting of hornblende, pyriclasts, basic charnokites, pyroxene amphibolites and scapolite-bearing calc-granulites and blended with small amounts of quartzites, garnet-biotite gneisses and intermediate charnokites (Hapuarachi et al., 1964). This zone coincides with an aeromagnetic anomaly, which has probably contributed to the desilication process responsible for the gem fields in the area (Katz, 1972; Munasinghe and Dissanayake, 1980). Soils, which largely belong to the red-yellow podzolic group, are well-drained and show very little accumulation of organic matter. This characteristic is attributed to a combination of favourable climatic conditions, a diverse soil microflora effecting rapid breakdown of organic matter into constituent nutrients, and accelerated uptake and recycling of nutrients by the trees. Clear-felling of the forest, where most of the nutrients are locked up, therefore renders the soil impoverished of essential nutrients and incapable of supporting sustained commercial forestry or agriculture (Forest Department, 1986). Information on soil profiles and soil microfungi are given in Zoysa and Raheem (1987).
  8. Climate Based on meteorological records gathered from in and around Sinharaja over the last 60 years, annual rainfall has ranged from 3614mm to 5006mm and temperatures from 19°C to 34°C (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Most precipitation emanates from the south-west monsoons during May-July and the north-east monsoons during November-January. Conditions are dry in February.
  9. VegetationTwo main types of forest can be recognised. Remnants of Dipterocarpus forest occur in valleys and on their lower slopes, with hora D. zeylanicus and bu hora D. hispidus present in almost pure stands. Secondary forest and scrub occur where the original forest cover has been removed by shifting cultivation and in other places the forest has been replaced by rubber and tea plantations (Rosayro, 1954). Mesua-Doona (Shorea) forest, the climax vegetation over most of the reserve, covers the middle and upper slopes above 500m (Rosayro, 1942) or above 335m as suggested by Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke (1985). Garcinia hermonii followed by Xylopia championii invariably dominate the understorey tree stratum, a range of species dominate the subcanopy and na Mesua nagassarium usually predominates in the canopy layer (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1985). Details about the structure and composition of the vegetation are summarised by Zoysa and Raheem (1987). Of Sri Lanka's 830 endemic species, 217 trees and woody climbers are found in the lowland wet zone (Peeris, 1975). Of these, 139 (64%) have been recorded in Sinharaja (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1985), 16 of which are considered to be rare (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1981). Other rare endemics are the palm Loxococcus rupicola (R) and Atalantia rotundifolia, the latter being restricted to Sinhagala at 742m. Of 211 recorded species of trees and woody climbers, 40% have low population densities (less than or 10 or fewer individuals per 25ha) and 43% have restricted distributions, rendering them vulnerable to further encroachments into the reserve (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1981). A variety of plants of known benefit to man are present, of which palm kitul Caryota urens (for jaggery, a sugar substitute), wewal Calamus sp. (for cane), cardamom Elattaria ensal (as spice), Shorea sp. (for flour), dun Shorea sp. (for varnish and incense) and weniwal Coscinium fenestratum (for medicinal purposes) are used intensively by villagers. A list of 202 plants, together with their endemicity and uses is given in the draft conservation plan (Forest Department, 1985).
  10. Fauna An early account of the fauna is given by Baker (1937). Preliminary lists of the fauna (viz. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes and butterflies) have been compiled (March for Conservation, 1985) and are included in the draft conservation plan (ForestDepartment, 1985). Endemism is high, particularly for birds with 19 (95%) of 20 species endemic to Sri Lanka present. Endemism among mammals and butterflies is also greater than 50%. Threatened mammals are leopard Panthera pardus and Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E). The endemic purple-faced langur Presbytis senex is present. Birds considered to be endangered or rare (Hoffmann, 1984) are Sri Lanka wood pigeon Columba torringtoni, green-billed coucal Centropus chlororhynchus, Sri Lanka white-headed starling Sturnus senex, Sri Lanka blue magpie Cissa ornata, and ashy-headed babbler Garrulax cinereifrons, all of which are endemic, and red-faced malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus. Of interest is the presence of Sri Lanka broad-billed roller Eurystomus orientalis irisi (I), sightings of which have decreased markedly in the last five years (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Of the reptiles and amphibia, python Python molurus is vulnerable and a number of endemic species are likely to be threatened. Noteworthy species include Calotes liolepis, the rarest of all Agamids on the island, the rare rough-nose horned lizard Ceratophora aspera, restricted to part of Sri Lanka's wet zone, and Ramella palmata, a rare endemic microhylid (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Threatened freshwater fish are combtail Belontia signata (R), smooth-breasted snakehead Channa orientalis (R), black ruby barb Barbus nigrofasciatus (V), cherry barb Barbus titeya (V) and red-tail goby Sicydium halei (V), the conservation status of which is considered in Evans (1981). Of the 21 species of endemic butterfly, Sri Lanka rose Atrophaneura jophon is vulnerable (Collins and Morris, 1985). Sri Lankan five-bar sword Graphium antiphates ceylonicus, which is considered to be very rare, is not uncommon in Sinharaja at certain times of the year (J.N. Banks, pers. comm., 1986). Zoysa and Raheem (1987) comprehensively summarise what is known about the fauna.
  11. Cultural Heritage The Sinharaja region has long featured in the legends and lore of the people of Sri Lanka. Its name, literally meaning lion (sinha) king (raja), perhaps refers to the original 'king-sized or royal forest of the Sinhalese', a people of the legendary 'lion-race' of Sri Lanka (Hoffmann, 1979), or to the home of a legendary lion of Sri Lanka.
  12. Local and Human Population There are two villages within the south-west of the reserve, namely Warukandeniya and Kolonthotuwa, and about 52 families live in the north-western sector. At least 20 other settlements occur on the periphery, an unknown number of which have been illegally established on state land without approval from the relevant authorities. The total population is in excess of 5,000 people. Some land adjacent to the reserve is under private ownership, including small tea and rubber plantations. The extent to which local people are economically dependent on rain forest resources is variable but about 8% of households might be completely dependent (Silva, 1985).
  13. Visitors and Visitor Facilities Visitors are low in number and mostly naturalists. Entry is by permit, obtainable from the Forest Department in Colombo. There are nature trails to the peaks of Moulawella and Sinhagala. Guidebooks to the Moulawella Trail and to the secondary vegetation have recently been prepared (Gunatilleke et al., 1987a, 1987b). Some accommodation is available with the Forest Department near the reserve entrance at Kudawa. Further facilities are planned.
  14. Scientific research an Facilities Among the earliest studies are those of Baker (1937, 1938). Rosayro (1954, 1959), Andrews (1961) and Merritt and Ranatunga (1959) assessed the area's potential for selective logging, based on aerial and ground surveys. Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke (1980, 1981, 1985) examined the floristic composition and phytosociology of woody vegetation and assessed its conservation value. Research on theendemic fauna has been undertaken by WWF/IUCN (Project 1733) and March for Conservation (Karunaratne et al., 1981). Conflicts over the local use of forest resources have been examined by McDermott (1985, 1986) and Silva (1985). An annotated vegetation/land-use map (1:40,000) of the reserve has been produced by the Forest Department (n.d.). The Natural Resources Energy and Science Authority of Sri Lanka has provided a field research station in the reserve. The Forest Department building at Kudawa, outside the reserve, is used by scientists and visitors.
  15. Covservation Value Sinharaja is the last extensive primary lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. It holds a large number of endemic species of plants and animals, and a variety of plants of known benefit to man. Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last viable remnant of Sri Lanka's tropical lowland rain forest; over 60% of the trees are endemic and many of these are rare; and there are 21 endemic bird species, and a number of rare insects, reptiles and amphibians (IUCN Technical Evaluation).
  16. Conservation Management Sinharaja is administered by the Forest Department under the Ministry of Lands and Land Development. Recognising the need for maximum possible protection, it has recently been declared as a national heritage wilderness area under the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act. Any excision to such an area is permissible only with the concurrence of parliament and the President of the country. The site is also partially protected under the provisions of the Forest Ordinance. Sinharaja was first recognised in 1936 as being "the only considerable patch of virgin tropical rain-forest in the island" (Baker, 1937). Owing to its inaccessibility and steep, hilly terrain, the reserve remained untouched until 1968 when a government directive was issued to extract timber for the plywood sawmill and chipwood complex established at Kosgama. From 1971 until 1977, when logging was banned, largely due to public pressure with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society playing a leading role (see Hoffmann, 1972, 1977), about 1,400ha of forest in the western sector were selectively logged (Gunatilleke, 1978; Forest Department, 1986). Presently, the reserve has 6,500-7,000ha of unlogged forest. Since 1977, the Forest Department has given high priority to protecting the reserve and in 1978 began planting Pinus caribaea along the periphery to establish a live boundary. More recently, betelnut palm Areca catechu has been used for this purpose (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987).
  17. A conservation plan has been officially approved (Forest Department, 1986), implementation of which is being carried out under a cooperative agreement between IUCN and the Sri Lankan government, with additional funding from the Norwegian government (Hails, 1989). In order to ensure the strict protection of the reserve for scientific and aesthetic reasons, a scheme of zonation and management is proposed for areas outside the reserve. The creation and propagation of essential forest products, for sustained utilisation, in areas outside the reserve is intended to meet local needs and thereby eliminate former dependence on resources within the reserve. Alternative strategies are either to establish a 3.2km-wide buffer zone round the reserve or to enlarge the area protected to about 47,380ha, with the reserve forming a strictly protected core area and surrounding areas set aside as buffers for various uses. The only resource which may still be legally collected, under permit, is kitul (McDermott, 1988). The preferred strategy has been to freeze resource use within the reserve at 1985 levels (when the conservation plan was prepared) and gradually eliminate futureresource dependency on the reserve by relocating villages to areas outside the reserve (Ishwaran and Erdelen, 1990).
  18. Management Costraints Of the many constraints to the protection of Sinharaja, socio-economic ones relating to the people and organisations in the immediate vicinity of the reserve are perhaps among the most important. Encroaching cultivations are probably the biggest problem, particularly along the southern boundary (McDermot, 1985). Contractors open up routes to facilitate logging operations and, although no felling is permitted within 1.6km of the reserve boundary, this may render the reserve more accessible to illicit timber operations. Planting of Honduran mahogany Swietenia macrophylla along abandoned logging trails as an enrichment species may lead to displacement of natural species, especially as it is a prolific seed producer (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Alleged malpractices by the State Timber Corporation are a source of concern for the Forest Department. Private land owners along the periphery perhaps make illegitimate use of timber resources within the reserve: having felled all merchantable timber on their own land, they continue to request permits for timber (Hathurusinghe, 1985). The most important forest produce is firewood, significant quantities of which are used in the production of jaggery (McDermot, 1985; Silva, 1985). The traditional use of minor forest products, most important of which are kitul for jaggery and wewal or cane for weaving baskets, is now restricted to forest surrounding the reserve. Illicit gem mining was considered to be a serious problem in eastern parts of the reserve. It is organised mostly by wealthy merchants from outside the Sinharaja region and needs to be stopped. The lack of a uniform land-use policy and the multiplicity of governmental and semi-governmental agencies involved in land-use planning in Sri Lanka are the major administrative constraints in evolving a suitable protection plan for Sinharaja. For the moment, transactions related to lands surrounding the reserve are suspended under presidential order until such time as the conservation plan for the reserve is ready for implementation (Forest Department, 1986).
  19. Local Address Range Forest Officer, Range Forest Office, Kudawa, Weddagala (An assistant conservator of forests will eventually be responsible for implementing the conservation plan.)

Eco Tourism in Sri Lanka

The Island of Paradise - Sri Lanka is well known to tourists for its coastal tropical beach resorts, the fascinating eco tourism attractions of nature parks, rain forests, vast lakes, reservoirs, protected wild life and the greenish hill country with its waterfalls, tea estates and year-round cool weather attracting more and more tourist to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a country blessed by nature. Though it is a island, a mere dot on the world map, it is filled with a wide verity of beautiful and ecologically important natural habitants. Sri Lanka harbors a vast amount of wildlife, far larger in proportion to her size, because of its environment and its tropical conditions. Elephants, leopards, deer and wild boar are some of the main attractions of wildlife enthusiasts. Bird life is a major portion of Sri Lanka's wildlife. The abundance of Sri Lanka's bird life makes it an ornithologist's paradise.

To the botanist this is indeed a land of plenty. The different climate zones allows for trees, tropical as well as temperate to flourish. The luxuriant undergrowth and tall majestic trees of the wet-zone tropical forests contrast with the arid scrubland and galipot palms of the dry northern and eastern regions of the island.

Sri Lanka is a paradise for animal lovers who enjoy animal or bird watching. There are many national parks and sanctuaries in Sri Lanka that offer you an opportunity to observe “real” wildlife at least once in your lifetime! The animals that roam the national parks and sanctuaries are many in variety. Example of animals that you can see in a national park such as Yala National Park are elephants, leopards, sloth bears, deer and monkeys, wild buffalos, wild boars, porcupines, ant-eaters, civet cats, jackals, mongooses, Loris (unique to Sri Lanka), several varieties of lizards, squirrels, reptiles and amphibians.

Today Sri Lanka preserves 12 National Parks, 51 Sanctuaries, and 3 strict Natural Reserves (Horton Planes, Knuckles range and Peak Wilderness). There are 628 vertebrates (84 mammals, 379 birds, 133 reptiles and 32 amphibians), a myriad of invertebrates and about 900 species of fish. Out of these, 10 mammals, 21 birds, 70 reptiles, 15 amphibians and 17 fishes are endemic, i.e. found only in Sri Lanka. Out of the 242 species of butterflies in the island, only 6 kinds live above 4000 feet elevation. There are more than 3000 species of plants, about five times the number in the United Kingdom. Of these about 25% of the flowering plants are endemic.

Sri Lanka with all this natural gift will be the ideal holiday destination for anyone with any interests. Either it be Eco or Cultural or just a sunny beach stay you won’t find a better place than this...

Travelling with responsibility, without harming the sustainability of the destinations and it's inhabitants but at the same time enjoying the visit. It is about being a environmentally friendly and conservation conscious traveller.

World's resources are dwindling and being polluted by the minute beyond recovery. Eco tourism had made it possible to meet the challenge of transporting millions of tourists to their destinations while maintaining the pleasure without harming the existence of the destinations. Sri Lanka is in the forefront of this endeavour.

Sri Lanka is an ideal destination of eco tourism with a wealth of activities for the whole family. From nature trails, hiking, cycling, bird watching, photography or wild life safaris are just the beginning of the list. You could also visit a tropical forest, relax in the beach or hike to natural forest reserves. No part of the country is just a step away from eco friendly activities .

Friday, February 20, 2009

Make the best use of fruits - by Chandra Edirisuriya

Fruits have been the basic food of both herbivorous man and animal but not of carnivorous animals distinguished by their canine teeth.

Of course, both herbivorous man and carnivorous animals like domesticated dogs and cats have become omnivorous owing to necessity. Even the carrion eater of the jungles the fox is fabled to have tried to eat sour grapes.

The importance of fruits as the food of early man is symbolised in story of Adam the first man in the biblical and Kuranic traditions and Eve the Old Testament first woman, the mother of the human race fashioned by God from the rib of Adam.

The Buddha accepting a gift of a mango grove from Ambapali the courtesan is one of the earliest references to the mango fruit. Arhant Maha Mahinda, son of Emperor Dharmasoka who introduced Buddhism to Lanka asking questions about a mango tree from King Devanampiya Tissa to test the king's intelligence to see whether the king could understand the Buddha's doctrine is the second instance in Buddhist history where the mango tree is mentioned.

My first recollection of fruits was when I was a toddler. There was a mee amba (honey mango) tree in the compound of the Katupitiya Government Mixed School in the bungalow of which we lived, in addition to the cashew trees, the sour sop or anona (Katu anoda) trees and an orange tree bearing a large number of sweet fruits. In about the year 1945 when the Second World War was still being fought some foreign soldiers on horse back came to the school compound and asked for oranges.

When my father in his abundant generosity told them to pluck any number of fruits one soldier while sitting on his horse plucked oranges for all of them by bending the branches with his rifle. The surplus oranges from this tree numbering hundreds were sold by my father as he had leased out the land from the Government.

Thereafter when my father and my mother came on transfer to Kottawa we stayed the brief period of six months at a large old house with a portico, in a coconut, rubber and cinnamon land. There were white Columbian mango (rata amba) trees in the land owned by the land lady who was the sole occupant of the house because her son who was the Public Trustee at the time lived in his official residence in Colombo. Our family consisting of my father, mother, younger sister and younger brother looked after the old lady and when she got her labourers to pluck mangoes she gave us liberal quantities of the fruit.

For the six months we were there I attended Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya and part of the school compound was full of dan bushes. During the interval we of the 3rd standard plucked the ripe purple coloured berries. I first saw a damson tree full of the red and purple coloured plum-like fruits in the compound of the lady teacher to whose house I went in the evening for tuition.


Then in our own land at Gampaha where we lived for the next 46 years there were a large number of fruit trees there were about eight kinds of mangoes namely rata amba, betti amba, pol amba, dampara, villard, peter peasant, ambul amba (sour mangoes) and pilikuttu amba, a species confined to the area around Pilikuttuwa Raja Maha Viharaya which has now been declared a sacred area owing to the valuable ancient cave paintings there.

The Pol Amba tree in front of our house was about the height of a very tall coconut tree and the fruits in bunches were as large as medium-sized papaws. The fruit was bright yellow when ripe and contained a large quantity of delicious flesh as the seed was flat. My father used the 12 bore single barrelled shot gun he had for 35 years only once a year and that was to bring down a bunch of mangoes by shooting at its stem at the auspicious time to light the kitchen hearth on the New Year day, to signal my mother who was waiting to perform the rite. Unfortunately after the pol amba tree died I have not seen the like of this variety of mangoes anywhere else in the country.

In addition to mango there were orange, narang (tangerine), guava, avocado, lime, lemolime, pomegranate, uguressa, gooseberry, heart-shaped red custard apple, naminan, lavulu, beli, divul, ilama, papaw, banana and plantain, breadfruit, jak (both wela and waraka) trees, half an acre of kew pineapples and passion fruit creepers bearing red and yellow fruits in our garden. Later I planted one acre of Mauritius pineapples. Ilama is a big green custard apple with spiking buttons on the skin. This variety of anona along with the red passion fruit was brought by me from Nuwara Eliya but grew well in the warm climate at Gampaha. Our one hectare land was a virtual orchard with fruit trees that grew with little effort on our part.

In the late 1940s and into the 1950s most local fruits were hardly sold in the market and were not grown in plantation. Fruits were a home garden product. Only imported fruits like fresh grapes, apples and later Haifa oranges and dried fruits like raisins, dates etc were sold in the market. Nuwara Eliya pears came later. Now even Australian Kiwi fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines and imported grape fruits are available in super markets.


Marmalade orange, locquats, peaches, mulberry, strawberry are also found in our country as nature's bounty. Marmalade made of marmalade oranges and sweet oranges is a delicacy that is eaten with bread and butter. Mulberry that could be grown in any compound makes an excellent jam.

I can recall the day I first ate an apple. I used to accompany my father to the Katupitiya cooperative store when he went there to supervise its operations as the President of the Cooperative Society. There were sweet smelling green apples wrapped in tissue paper and green grapes in pinewood boxes with cork dust put in to prevent crushing, for sale there in addition to Australian IXL jams in tins. I ate the green apple which my father gave me but vomited later because as I learnt later raw apples with rind are too acidic and for that reason apples are given to young children peeled and cooked in sugar syrup.

Banana is the fruit that is most widely consumed. The more popular banana in the world is Peesang Ambon (ambun) that was marketed with the chiquita label, grown in the banana republics of Central America. Its origin is traced to Amboina or Ambon an island in Indonesia in the Moluccas. The raw banana is sliced and dried to make flour. A porridge made of it fed even to infants. The other species of banana are the sour plantains, ash plantains, kolikuttu, suwandel, puvalu, anamalu, rata hondravalu, nethra palam, etambura, mondan, alu mondan, morathavalu, kithala or seeni kehel, sudu kochchi, rath kehel etc. which are eaten ripe made into curries, fried as chips or eaten boiled with scraped coconut. It is sour plantation (ambul) that is eaten boiled with the peel intact, after cutting the two ends of the fruits, adding a little salt, with scraped coconut as the main meal. Ash plantains (alu kehel) contain the most proteins out of all bananas.

Once when I visited my mother hospitalised at the Wathupitiwala Base Hospital, Attanagalle, she had been served rice with ash plantain cooked whole, in coconut milk, with the peel.

Ash plantains are most nutritious when ripe. An Ayurvedic rejuvenative medicine (Rasayanaya) is made by mixing ripe ash plantain with kithul jaggery and after putting the mixture into a clay pot, covering its mouth with a cloth tied round its neck, topping it with a clay lid (moodiya) and keeping the pot buried under the fire place in the kitchen or buried in paddy inside a silo (wee bissa or pettiya) for three months. Rath kehel (red bananas) called merenda valu in Tamil because of its medicinal properties can be grown in the home garden close to the pit to which kitchen refuse is put. Once I planted a rath kehel sucker near the cow dung pit at our cattle shed and it bore a very large bunch of the prized fruit each about eight inches long.

I tried to grow a durian tree the king of all fruits. But it died due to prolonged drought. Durian is a large tree Durio zebethinus native to South East Asia bearing oval spiny fruits containing creamy pulp with a fetid smell and agreeable taste. Duri in Malay means thorn. It is grown as a plantation crop in this region. In our country durian grows roughly in Gampaha district in the low country wet zone and beyond Kadugannawa up to Kotmale in the inter-montane zone. However 90 per cent of the durian crop in this country is wasted owing to plucking when the fruit is not mature enough for quick ripening. Such fruits vendors try to sell in vain give out no smell and pallid in colour.

Only the uninitiated eat such fruits sold on the wayside.

Those selling it don't lose because it is purchased dirt cheap from the villagers. Traders at the stalls next to Manning market don't sell durian now because I enlightened them about it. Durian cream canned by a reputed cannery used to sold at grocers and super markets but not now.

So the connoisseur is denied the opportunity of tasting this ambrosial fruit which is classed as the best fruit in the world taste wise and nutrition wise. The last time I ate durian was five years ago when I stayed in a house in the heart of Kandy town in the compound of which there were three very large durian trees. Early morning I used to pick the fruits, fallen during the night. The taste of these tree ripened fruits was exquisite.

Best use must be made of the fruits produced in the country by seeing that only the mature fruits are plucked and as far as possible naturally ripened. Smoke ripening and ripening by applying chemical substances as ripening agents in quantities and in the manner prescribed by the Department of Agriculture, only, should be permitted. The agricultural extension officers should be made to see that immature fruits are not harvested. What happens today is that dealers go to the villages and buy the crop of the whole tree dirt cheap from the farmers and sell it to traders in the cities. More often than not excessive chemical treatment of the fruits to force the unmatured fruits to ripen quickly, all at the same, makes them tasteless, watery and of less nutritive value. These fruits also go bad in no time and a large proportion is thrown away. But the intermediaries between the producer and the consumer get a good profit because it is purchased from the producers at a very low price.

Mahaweli zones

It is because there is quality control in countries like the USA, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa that the fruits that we import from these countries are beyond complaint. The other consolation is that a quota of the fruits like cantaloupe and other kinds of melons grown in the Mahaweli zones, for export, are released to the local market. One cannot say this of the mango, papaw, avocado, bananas etc available in the local market except in the village fairs to which producers bring their produce directly.

For instance one seller at Kadugannawa where there is a Sunday fair sells good quality durian fruit. Good quality mangoes, avocados, bananas etc also could be had at this fair. This is true of other fairs held in towns.

Apart from the fruits eaten ripe, jak and breadfruit can be used as a substitute for rice and bread etc. made of wheat flour. Boiled jak and breadfruit is best eaten with scraped coconut, lunu miris with maldive fish and other curries.

Tender jak is made into a curry. Our family caretaker Peter Appuhamy who devoted all his life looking after us was also an excellent cook and the polos curry he cooked is unsurpassable. He used two coconuts to cook one tender jak fruit. He added the milk of one to the polos along with the paste of chillie, condiments, garlic, curry leaves, maldive fish etc. and the kernel of the other coconut cut into thin slices. The clay pot containing the mixture was put on the hearth to cook overnight to be eaten at all three meals the following day.

Breadfruit, a tree of the Pacific Islands was brought to this country by the Dutch who ruled us from 1656 to 1796 to make the villagers eat it and for them (the Dutch) to export the rice thus saved. Boiled breadfruit should always be eaten with a liberal quantity of scraped coconut to neutralise the acids in it. It is said that even elephants do not eat the ripe fruit fallen under the trees in the jungle. Breadfruit can also be eaten thinly sliced, dried and fried in oil coated with either chillie powder and salt or put in sugar syrup.

Mature jak pods cut into strips can be prepared in the same manner. Fruits are so prized in countries like America that selected fruits packed in cartons by the dozen can be ordered through the mail and sent as gifts. In India the mango is regarded as the king of fruits and mangoes of good quality are sold by the basket.

We export fruits of good quality including pineapples, confined earlier to the area covered by Gampaha district but now grown in other areas of the country too.

Papaws are also grown on a commercial scale and the most favourite variety is the red lady with the sweet deep pink flesh. As it earlier got spoiled in transporting owing to the thin skin. Improved varieties with a skin thick enough to withstand the rigours of transportation have been now developed. A kind of yellow fruit called lansi gaslabu in the olden days is cultivated now using only organic manure is available in super markets.

Kinds of anona like cherimoya and sour sop make the best sherberts in the world served in star class hotels. Most of the acidic fruits can be mixed with milk to make excellent drinks. Fruits are also used to make sundaes, ice creams and cocktails. Wines are distilled from fruits even other than grapes. Cider is made from apple juice. Jams of the IXL brand are made even from forest fruits.

Even in our country there are fruits that grow wild in the forest like palu, weera, mora, himbutu, ambul pera (sour guava) etc. Nature has been very generous to our country in giving us many more fruits like Kamaranka (star fruit or star apple) koholle lavulu, rambuttan, gadu guda, donga, ambarella, mangosteen, tamarind, gal siyambala, palmyra fruit etc some of which have spread from other countries. It is a pity that there is a scant respect for fruits as a commodity consumed by the common man. The ordinary man does not get his money's worth when he buys fruits of low quality and sometimes injurious to health.

Fruits - ambrosia of the gods - by Chandra Edirisuriya

Fruits are by far the most natural and the most valuable source of food of man because fruits can be eaten uncooked and cooking destroys the nutrients in most foods. The story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple is symbolic of the importance of fruits. It was very natural for man to pick or pluck sweet smelling ripe fruits that grew in the wild where man lived in caves. As long as man lived in the jungle in the natural setting fruits formed the principal diet.

Fruits could also be called the ambrosia of the gods, in the heavens or the astral worlds where, according to a recent article in the Sunday Observer by a medical doctor, human beings who do good in this world live in their youthful form and fruit trees bear extremely delicious fruits. This also tallies with a story in the Silumina some time ago where a girl of 17 years relates her previous life in heaven in which fruits are the food of gods and goddesses who are airborne.

Fruits available in this country can be categorised into endemic, brought from overseas and grown here and fruits imported. One of the earliest mentioned fruits in this country is the mango. The well-known questions arhant Mahinda asked King Devanampiyatissa, to test the king's intelligence were about a mango tree. Other fruits growing wild in the dry zone and wet zone jungles in this country include divul (woodapple), palu, weera, mora, kon, nelli, madan, goraka, tamarind, beli, koholle lavulu, timbiri, himbutu.

Fruits brought from other countries and propagated here include jak, papaw, bananas and plantains, gauva, pomegranate, avocado or alligator pear, mangosteen, rambuttan, cashewapple, jambola, tangerine, orange, pears, peaches, strawberry, gooseberry, mulberry, loquats, lime, star fruit, anona, passion fruit, pineapple, sapodilla, durian, rata goraka, breadfruit etc. Mulberry fruits when fully ripe make an excellent jam, a single tree in the garden will supply enough fruits to eat as fresh fruit also.

Breadfruit is not eaten uncooked. It is said even wild animals like elephants do not east the ripe breadfruit fallen on the ground from trees, in the African jungles because it contains some strong acid. It is because of this that boiled breadfruit is eaten with liberal quantities of scraped coconut or made into a mallum with scraped coconut and tumeric etc or into a curry with coconut milk and spinach, to neutralise the acid.

Breadfruit is also cut, sliced and dried to make a sweetmeat by frying in oil and coating it with sugar or treacle. Breadfruit was introduced to this country by the Dutch, from the East Indies, because they wanted to export the rice produced here. In Fiji, Tonga islands Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific ocean it is eaten roasted with pork. A pit is dug and lined with banana leaves. Peeled breadfruit and pork with salt etc. added, is laid in the pit, covered with more banana leaves and topped with soil. A fire is lit with firewood on the covered pit for the contents to be roasted.

Jak is a versatile fruit eaten as a curry when tender (polos), boiled and eaten with scraped coconut or pork curry or made into a curry to eat with rice, when mature. Tender jak mallun is also prepared with scrapped coconut, turmeric, black pepper etc also to eat with rice. Mature, cream or yellow coloured pods of the jak fruit are boiled and dried as atu kos, fried in oil and put in hot sugar syrup or treacle to make a sweetmeat.

Ripe jak as wela or waraka that was available canned sometime back but not now, is a delicacy. The ripe pods are usually golden yellow but waraka with pink coloured pods is also there. The mature jak seed is preserved in sand (veli koseta) to be eaten during scarcity. An excellent melluma (Niyambalawa) is made from jak seed so preserved. Raw mature jak seeds are also made into a curry with roasted and ground scraped coconut (Kalu pol maluwa). Jak seed can also be eaten boiled or roasted under embers in the fire place, with coconut. Aggala, a sweet meat ball is made from roasted jak seeds mixed with scraped coconut, sugar or jaggery, black pepper and salt to taste, pounded in the mortar with a pestle. Both jak and breadfruit are dehydrated now to make various preparations.

Divul (woodapple) is now cultivated as a plantation crop in the southern province, because this fruit has a big demand, to make divul kiri, mixing the pulp of the fruit with coconut milk, jaggery or sugar and salt to taste and to make jam on a large scale for domestic consumption as well as for export. It is difficult to get mature, well ripened divul fruit in the market because unscrupulous traders pluck the tender fruit and ripen it artificially. However good quality fruits can be bought from supermarkets, and reputed dealers at reasonable rates too.

The most common varieties of bananas and plantains grown in this country are ambul (sour plantain), ambun (brought from Ambonia, where porridge made from flour obtained by pounding sliced and dried ambun is given to infants), kolikuttu, anamalu (ripe anamalu with boiled eggs is given to those recovering from food poisoning) rath kehel (red banana) called merrandavalu in Tamil because of its medicinal properties, ash plantains (alu kehel) made into curry after frying or just raw but more nutritious when ripe (an ayurvedic rasayanaya is prepared by mixing ripe ash plantains and kithul jaggery and burning under the fire place in a clay pot), suwandel, seeni kehel, rata honaravalu, puvalu etc. Ati kehel grows in the wild. The high potassium content in bananas is said to prevent strokes.

Bananas and plantains are best eaten tree ripened or left to ripen in the shade. Smoking used to be the method of ripening in the villages when it was necessary to ripen large quantities in a short time of two to three days in view of festivals or wedding ceremonies. A pit is dug in a shed and burnt with dried plantain leaf and straw. Bunches of bananas are cut into combs and stocked on a layer of keppetiya, biling and caju (cashew) leaves held to the fire and covered with more such leaves.

The pit is then covered with planks, gunny bags and topped with soil. A hole is bored in the soil leading to the chamber where the fruit is to blow smoke into it, every six hours or so. Now traders use smoke rooms to ripen large quantities of fruits. Application of chemicals is now recommended by the Department of Agriculture to ripen fruits all at the same time on condition that the chemicals do not come into direct contact with the fruits.

But unprincipled dealers apply overdoses of the chemicals directly to the fruits to ripen immature and tender fruits quickly. Mangoes, papaw and avocado ripened in or mellun.

The papaw when artificially ripened by applying an over dose of chemicals or when immature fruits are ripened in this manner, is watery and bitter tasting. The avocado so treated is tasteless. These fruits sold at super markets and by some declared in markets like the manning market in Pettah are properly ripened.

Sometime back I bought a Red Lady papaw fruit weighing 02 kilograms for Rs. 100 from a dealer at the Manning Market. The dealer said he gets his papaw from Embilipitiya. We really enjoyed eating it with the sweet red flesh. The next time, as his papaws had sold out I bought two papaws, each weighing one kilograms, from another dealer close by.

The fruits tasted watery and bitter. Thereafter I again went to the first dealer and told him the story. He said "those are immature fruits treated with carbide" and gave me two good fruits and I continue to buy papaw from him.

Although Super Markets and some reliable traders sell good quality fruits but most people buy their fruits from wayside vendors who sell very low quality fruits that deceive the eyes. So only the discerning and the discriminating get the best fruits while the ordinary man gets the sum owing to unscrupulous traders mostly middlemen capitalising on the big demand for fruits and the weaknesses of ignorant people.

They buy fruits that look good from a distance and superficially because they have not even seen, properly ripened fruits.

Bananas are by for the most widespread fruits in this country. Matara Alawwa are famous for kolikuttu. Anamalu is confined to the wet cool areas in the hill country starting in the Rambukkana area. Ambun is cultivated in the wet zone both low country and up country.

Ambul plantains are grown throughout the country. Ambul plantains of record size used to be grown in Jaffna by the industrious Jaffna farmers. Rath kehel the most nutritious of all bananas needs very fertile soil. Puvalu and suwandel are delicious varieties found in the country. Every home garden can accommodate at least one kind of banana to advantage.

Mango is also one of the most popular tropical fruits. It is extensively grown and consumed in India. Mango juice and milk was the favourite and the only diet during the later part of the life of Mahathma Gandhi.

In our country mangoes have been eaten from time immemorial. Half a century ago there were only the indigenous varieties like ambul amba, etamba, walu amba, mee amba. Rata amba, pol amba, betti amba, gira amba, dampara, kohu amba, pilikuttu amba were propagated from seeds. Then there were the famous Jaffna mangoes like kartha kolomban, vella kolomban etc. All these kinds and the red villard are now also grown as budded trees in plantations mainly in the dry zone.

Pineapple is grown on a large scale in this country in plantations because it has a ready demand in the international market. Fruits like cantaloupe melons and water melons are grown in the Mahaweli areas, also for export.

Many other fruits like mangoes, bananas etc can be grown on a large scale for local consumption as well as for export. The export of passion fruit juice was thriving at one time but owing to inability to follow basic rules of quality control it had to be abandoned. The demand overseas for most tropical fruits exceeds supply. Imported fruits enjoy a good market here because of the stringent quality control exercised by authorities in other countries exporting fruits.

The country has much to gain by growing fruits systematically on a large scale both for local consumption and export. Jams are made from local fruits like divul, mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit etc and from imported fruits like apricots, strawberries etc.

Mixed fruit jams with a combination of those fruits are made. Jams made of fruits like plums, black berries, blue berries etc are imported into this country.

Mango, orange, lime, nelli and mixed fruit cordials are made here. Orange, mandarin, grapefruit, apricot, mango, apple and black current cordials and juices are also imported. Divul kiri also used to be canned by a reputed cannery but not now. Papaw jam is also not made now because papaw today is one of the most popular fruits eaten fresh. Fruits are best in their natural form rather than preserved.

Almost all kinds of fruits grown in the mediterranean and temperate climates can be had here. Apples take pride of place among imported fruits. In the 1940s and the 1950s there were only green apples.

They were very sweet smelling, each wrapped in tissue paper and packed in pinewood boxes. I remember the day when I first ate an apple in about the year 1945 at the cooperative store managed by my father, as the Head Master of the village school. Green grapes were also sold there. Grapes too came in pinewood boxes packed with saw dust. Jams made from apricots, plums, gooseberry etc came in tins with the IXL label.

Now, apples of different colours, dark green, dark red, pink and light green are imported from the US, Australia, China, India and Pakistan. Jaffna oranges came first and now oranges and tangerine come from Australia and Pakistan.

Red and green grapes come from mediterranean climates. Even plums, kiwi fruit, nectarine, and grapefruits are available at the super markets at a price for those who can afford to buy such exotic fruits.